Surprisingly nowhere near as terrible as I was expecting. In fact, I’d venture to say that The Guard Brothers’ The Uninvited falls within the higher quality-tier of recent horror remakes, which is a small faction in and of itself. Released into theaters this past January to minimal fanfare, The Uninvited suffered from a totally generic-looking, laughable trailer. From the looks of the preview, this felt like just another pedestrian The Grudge knockoff, especially since its trailer played alongside the similarly-familiar preview for The Unborn, a terrible film (but that’s a whole other can of centipedes). I, like I’m sure many others, was instantly turned off. Allowed The Uninvited to come and go without as much as an urge to see it on the big screen.
It didn’t help the film’s cause that I’m a huge fan of the downright disturbing 2003 Korean original, A Tale of Two Sisters. That film ranks as my favorite of the Asian horror circuit, due to the overall ambiguity and its handful of paralyzing moments. In my mind, there was no way that an American-backed remake would maintain the Korean flick’s off-putting sense of the creeps.
Turns out, I was only partially right. While not perfect, or even stellar, The Uninvited does what a good remake is supposed to: holds on to the original’s vital elements while tossing in new additions that elevate the proceedings. A Tale of Two Sisters is still way superior, but The Guard Brothers (directors Charles and Thomas) deserve a round of applause for their impressive efforts.
The Uninvited, like the original, centers on a tormented young girl, Anna (played well by super-cutie Emily Browning), who is set to return home after a stint in the looney bin that stems from an accidential explosion that killed her sick, bed-ridden mother. Her father has asked the mother’s former nurse (Zack & Miri Make a Porno‘s Elizabeth Banks, chewing up scenery in an atypical villain role) to move in, a decision that doesn’t sit well with Anna and her sister, Alex. Once back home, Anna begins suffering from nightmares starring contorting corpses and suspicions that daddy’s new girl-toy may have been responsible for the fire that killed her mom.
As expected, The Uninvited is infinitely more clear-cut than A Tale of Two Sisters. No shock there, since ambiguous, fuzzy plots and lack of closed-book resolution are two defining traits in Asian horror films; Western counterparts, on the other hand, thrive on connecting every dot, mostly to a large fault. Here, however, the film’s focus on explaining everything is strangely successful. For one, everything makes sense, thematically. Gaping plot-holes are thankfully sidestepped, and the way screenwriters Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard handle the oh-shit-worthy twist (which wind-on-me-closely mirrors that of the Korean original, aside from one extra murder added on here) reminded me of the double-whammy reveals in James Mangold’s unfairly forgotten whodunit thriller Identity (you know, the one with John Cusack and Ray Liotta….now that’s a film that deserves its own post here some day).
Having the bar set so low for The Uninvited is the film’s strongest beneficiary. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring kicked ass, and The Grudge overcame several weak spots to emerge with a thumbs-up; otherwise, though, the pantheon of Asian horror remakes is a pile of shit. Is it even worth wasting space on disasters such as Shutter, or The Eye, or One Missed Call? Me thinks not. The Univited, fortunately, lands somwhere in between The Ring and The Grudge—-not as good as the one with the killer video cassette, but definitely a step ahead of the one with the ghost-kid who growls like an agitated pussy (cat). Banks’ performance as the shady nurse-turned-stepmom crosses the campy line a few too many times, and The Guard Brothers submit to the lazy “Boo! jump scare” tactic during scenes that could’ve played out better with more restraint.
A part of me wishes I could’ve seen The Uninvited without having ever seen A Tale of Two Sisters. The reason being that I was completely aware throughout of the major twist that comes in the last five minutes, so all of the film’s “subtle” attempts to mask it seemed terribly obvious. Imagine watching The Sixth Sense already knowing that [SPOILER ALERT, AS IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THE SIXTH SENSE] Bruce Willis is dead all along and thus never talks to a single character other than the little kid—-every time Willis conveniently leaves the room before having to speak to anybody, or the other characters conveniently never look directly at him, you’d think that the impending twist was telegraphed from jump street. As I did here with The Uninvited. I’m curious to find somebody who saw this without any prior knowledge of where the story was going, to gauge their reaction(s).
Really, this could’ve been a hell of a lot worse. Hades on a sweltering mid-July day degrees of inferiority. Only 80 minutes long, The Uninvited is nice and lean, and gets the job done with only partially-scarring stumbles. At the rate that 2009 is going so far, this has a healthy chance of being one of the year’s best stateside horror films. Certainly better than the commercials or its box office intake would lead you to believe. Who would’ve thought, huh?
If you’re leaving this up to choice, however, definitely watch A Tale of Two Sisters first, or only. Especially if you’re partial to films that leave some narrative doors open for your personal interpretation. Those frustrated or straight-up angered by tough-to-piece-together cinematic puzzles should just stick to The Uninvited, though.
Late in ’08, I threw together a free-flowing reaction to A Tale of Two Sisters over at the old blog. Here’s a link, give it a look if all of this talk intrigued you at all: